Mikhail Gorbachev says Russia is moving 'away from democracy'

Former Soviet leader says Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin are crushing opposition and leading country towards totalitarianism

Mikhail Gorbachev, the former leader of the Soviet Union, has issued a sharp criticism of Russia's president, Dmitry Medvedev, and the prime minister, Vladimir Putin, saying they are "doing everything they can to move away from democracy, to stay in power".

Gorbachev, 79, accused the two leaders of eroding civil liberties by crushing opposition parties and cancelling direct elections for regional governors.

"I am very concerned, we're only halfway down the road from a totalitarian regime to democracy and freedom," he told the BBC. "And the battle continues. There are still many people in our society who fear democracy and would prefer a totalitarian regime."

Gorbachev has been critical of his Kremlin successors in the past – reserving special bile for Boris Yeltsin – but these comments were his most cutting yet about Medvedev and Putin.

In a separate interview with the New York Times, Gorbachev said Putin believed "democracy stands in his way".

Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, who resigned in 1991, claimed there had been signs of friction between Putin and Medvedev, but ultimately the pair acted as a team. "I am afraid that they have been saddled with this idea that this unmanageable country needs authoritarianism," Gorbachev said. "They think they cannot do without it."

The comments come amid a slow ratcheting-up of tension over who will stand for the presidency in 2012. Western diplomats say Putin is still the dominant figure, but that he has not yet decided whether to return to the fray or to stay out of the race and allow his protégé, Medvedev, to run for a second term.

Putin was forced to step down in 2008 after serving eight years as president, but the Russian constitution would allow him to come back for a third, non-consecutive stint. Opposition candidates, who command few resources and who are excluded from appearing on state television, stand little chance.

Gorbachev's comments will have little effect inside the country, where he is widely derided as a spent force, but they could dampen Washington's optimistic view of Medvedev as the US attempts to "reset" relations with Moscow.

The Nobel peace prize-winner reserved special criticism for the pro-Kremlin United Russia party that props up Medvedev, saying it had become "a bad copy of the Soviet Communist party" whose aim was to exclude ordinary citizens from politics. That contrasted with Gorbachev's endorsement of the party at the 2007 parliamentary elections, when he said it was supported by 80% of the population.

Asked about the situation in Afghanistan, the former Soviet leader – who now heads a thinktank – predicted that Nato could never beat the Taliban.

"Victory is impossible in Afghanistan," he told the BBC. "[Barack] Obama is right to pull the troops out. No matter how difficult it will be."

Yesterday it emerged that Russia could be drawn back into the Afghanistan theatre for the first time since the Red Army was forcibly expelled by US-backed mujahideen fighters in 1989.

Nato and Russian officials are discussing plans for Russian forces to contribute helicopters, train Afghan pilots and security forces and step up co-operation on counter-narcotics and border security.


Tom Parfitt

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Mikhail Gorbachev lambasts Vladimir Putin's 'sham' democracy

Former Soviet leader launches harshest criticism yet of Russia's ruling regime ahead of 80th-birthday celebrations

Miriam Elder in Moscow

21, Feb, 2011 @6:56 PM

Mikhail Gorbachev: Party pooper | Editorial

Editorial: He may be yesterday's man, but the former Russian president's critical analysis of Putinism is worth listening to


27, Oct, 2010 @11:01 PM

Russia's Afghan agenda | Jonathan Steele

Jonathan Steele: Mikhail Gorbachev has valuable advice for the US on the war in Afghanistan that Vladimir Putin would rather he keep to himself

Jonathan Steele

27, Oct, 2010 @10:00 PM

Article image
Mikhail Gorbachev: I was too soft on Yeltsin
Twenty years after the coup that ended his stint as Soviet leader, Gorbachev muses on what he would have done differently

Jonathan Steele in Moscow

17, Aug, 2011 @1:35 AM

Article image
‘His was the slow way to freedom’: Russia says farewell to Mikhail Gorbachev
Putin has snubbed him, but thousands have come to see the last Soviet leader lying in state in Moscow

Andrew Roth in Moscow

03, Sep, 2022 @4:10 PM

Article image
Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov ousted from pro-Kremlin party

Oligarch claims Russian president Medvedev's aide is 'privatising' politics in dispute over parliamentary candidates

Tom Parfitt in Moscow

15, Sep, 2011 @6:32 PM

Article image
Mikhail Khodorkovsky verdict ordered from above, claims judge's assistant

Natalya Vasilyeva says oil tycoon and Kremlin critic found guilty of theft and money laundering by judge who did not try case

Miriam Elder in Moscow

14, Feb, 2011 @8:02 PM

Article image
Gorbachev: Putin has exhausted himself as Russian leader
Former Soviet leader warns of more protests if the Russian prime minister does not 'change the way things are'

Miriam Elder in Moscow

09, Feb, 2012 @2:52 PM

Article image
Mikhail Gorbachev: I should have abandoned the Communist party earlier
The former president looks back on his role in the fall of the Soviet Union 20 years ago in an exclusive Guardian interview

Jonathan Steele in Moscow

16, Aug, 2011 @10:02 PM

Article image
Kremlin fails to say whether Gorbachev will get state funeral
Putin acknowledges last Soviet leader’s ‘huge impact’ while grappling with his legacy of reform

Andrew Roth in Moscow

31, Aug, 2022 @2:31 PM